Category Archives: Argument Analysis

A catch all category for posts which analyze arguments without diagnosing specific failures of logic.

How not to respond to criticism

Here is a journalist with 20 years experience illustrating how not to respond to criticism.  The email is so bad that one might think he was either drunk or it was written by an impostor.  Here's the story.  Greenwald wrote a post on his blog, Unclaimed Territory, about the fawning tone of CNN correspondent John King's interview of John McCain.  You can read that here (it's short), but here's a sample question:

* KING: As you know, one of the issues you have had here in South Carolina in the past is either people don't understand your social conservative record or they're not willing to concede your social conservative record. There's a mailing that hit South Carolina homes yesterday. It's a picture of you and Cindy on the front. It says "Always pro-life, 24-year record." Why do you think you still, after all this time, have to convince these people, "I have been with you from the beginning"?

I'm sure you get the idea.  Not exactly critical journalism (follow Greenwald's links for more).  Here below is John King's response.  For the sake of clarity, I'll insert comments in brackets (courtesy of Glenn Greenwald)

From: King, John C


Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM

Subject: excuse me? [a more neutral subject heading–e.g., response to your blogpost]

I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game. [this is somewhat self-contradictory: either the post was not "biased uninformed drivel" (and so not worthy of the charge) or he does read bias uniformed drivel.  In either case, that's a pretty serious compound charge–biased and uninformed.  One is sufficient for dismissal.

But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings. [Now they're "ramblings"–biased uninformed drivel ramblings–that's four insults]

Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe you forgot that good lawyers to a little research before they spit out words. [The site says Greenwald is a lawyer]

Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.) [Notice how King responds to his own rhetorical question.  Aside from that, it's irrelevant to the criticism.  Besides, it suggests that King agrees with Greenwald about the fawning tone of the questions and suggests that CNN edited it to appear that way].

Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No. [More extra-textual irrelevance].

Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No. [He now seems to be conceding the point.  Besides, fawning questions to the other candidates would only reinforce the point that they're not real questions.  Asking fake questions to other candidates doesn't make them any less fake].

Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No. [So he definitely agrees, but thinks Greenwald has been unfair–there's a context that explains it].

McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years. [So these are not contentious questions.  But King, an ad hominizer, sees others as he sees himself–attacking the person.  His having asked "contentious" questions in the past doesn't make, however, the questions of the other day any less silly].

But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test. [Now he really misunderstands the nature of the criticism.  And again it's ad hominem: He suggests Greenwald wants him to ask mean, irrelevant questions about McCain's childhood.  If that is King's sense of a real journalistic question, then it's worse than Greenwald suggests].

The interview was mainly to get a couple of questions to him on his thoughts on the role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates. [Like in comedy, it's not funny if you have to explain it–unless you make the explanation funny–which this isn't.  I think.].

The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs — so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity. [It's always nice to have someone point out your rights.  I find it difficult, however, to follow King's point.  He agrees (or seems to agree) that questions he asked were soft balls, and that they were made a public document, but he charges that because Greenwald did not examine the non-public aspects of the interview (including the journalist's personal history of skepticism regarding McCain), that the analysis is wrong.  That seems really messed up, to put it bluntly.  CNN hires journalists, pays them to ask questions, and then airs the segment.  But we the viewing public are supposed to consider all of the things in the interview that were not aired before we draw any conclusions.  That just seems to undermine the whole point of airing the interview in the first place.] 

You clearly know very little about journalism. But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective. [Another irrelevant ad hominem coupled with an auto-pro-homine: an "I'm awesome and you're jerk."]

That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV. [Ah yes.  You're just saying that because–the ad hominem circumstantial.  You don't have reasons for what you say, you just say that to get noticed!]

The truly silly thing about this response is that King never challenges any one of Greenwald's points.  He concedes them in fact,  repeatedly, and from several different angles, but he alleges that Greenwald is a jerk for not knowing that no one is supposed to take King's work seriously.  This reminds me of something Krusty the Clown said when he was running for Congress: when you react like that (to his racist jokes) it means he was kidding.


Golden Wingnut winner

This post from the Power Line (a major, mainstream conservative blog–not a fringe yahoo) was voted winner of the Golden Wingnut Award, a prize given to the most ludicrous post from the conservative side of the web. It might be fun, I thought, to see if anyone can identify why it is so bad.

Here it is:

>It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

>Hyperbolic? Well, maybe. But consider Bush’s latest master stroke: the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The pact includes the U.S., Japan, Australia, China, India and South Korea; these six countries account for most of the world’s carbon emissions. The treaty is, in essence, a technology transfer agreement. The U.S., Japan and Australia will share advanced pollution control technology, and the pact’s members will contribute to a fund that will help implement the technologies. The details are still sketchy and more countries may be admitted to the group later on. The pact’s stated goal is to cut production of “greenhouse gases” in half by the end of the century.

>What distinguishes this plan from the Kyoto protocol is that it will actually lead to a major reduction in carbon emissions! This substitution of practical impact for well-crafted verbiage stunned and infuriated European observers.

>I doubt that the pact will make any difference to the earth’s climate, which will be determined, as always, by variations in the energy emitted by the sun. But when the real cause of a phenomenon is inaccessible, it makes people feel better to tinker with something that they can control. Unlike Kyoto, this agreement won’t devastate the U.S. economy, and, also unlike Kyoto, the agreement will reduce carbon emissions in the countries where they are now rising most rapidly, India and China. Brilliant.

>But I don’t suppose President Bush is holding his breath, waiting for the crowd to start applauding.

I have my theory. What’s yours?

Ad puerum

Every now and then E.J.Dionne puts up his dukes. This time it concerns the slime campaign against the 12-year old Graeme Frost, a boy who had the misfortune to qualify for Maryland’s SCHIP program (an expanded version of which Bush vetoed). The young Mr. Frost, who benefited from the SCHIP program after a serious car accident (and brain stem injury) delivered the Democratic response to Bush’s veto. In response to this, many mainstream–and this is an important classification–conservative personalities attacked young Mr.Frost and his parents, claiming they were undeserving of such federal benefits (among much else).

>So rather than just condemn the right-wingers as meanies, let’s take their claims seriously. Doing so makes clear that they are engaged in a perverse and incoherent form of class warfare.

>The left is accused of all manner of sins related to covetousness and envy whenever it raises questions about who benefits from Bush’s tax cuts and mentions the yachts such folks might buy or the mansions they might own. But here is a family with modest possessions doing everything conservatives tell people they should do, and the right trashes them for getting help to buy health insurance for their children.

>Most conservatives favor government-supported vouchers that would help Graeme attend his private school, but here they turn around and criticize him for . . . attending a private school. Federal money for private schools but not for health insurance? What’s the logic here?

There isn’t any.


Harold Meyerson points out what many would consider obvious:

>Just outside our nation’s capital, in affluent Montgomery and Fairfax counties, they still build public schools when the number of school-age children rises above the number that the existing schools can accommodate. Beyond question, there are parents in Fairfax and Montgomery who could easily afford to send their kids to private schools but who send them nonetheless to the excellent public schools in their neighborhoods . They thus increase government spending and withhold revenue from the private-school industry, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about that. A free public education is a right, or, if you prefer, an entitlement in America, because the nation long ago decided that an educated population is a national good.

Of course many wouldn’t consider it obvious, say, for instance, George Will:

>Unless facts are allowed to intrude, in which case it will be pointed out that what the Democrats are doing is taking a program aimed at poor children and turning it into a huge ever-expanding middle class entitlement program for, if Governor Spitzer in New York has his way, people, children up to say 25 years old from households with incomes of $82,000. Now, the guy sitting next to you at the bar at the plaza with a mustache sipping a vodka martini may be on that program for poor children.

Outside of knee jerk conservatism (“I don’t trust nothing new”), what principle could one invoke for offering school equally and to all (in principle–no bad school complaints please) but not health, the more basic and necessary condition for vigorous democratic and economic participation? But rather than thinking of reasons not to offer that particular (to my mind) obvious and rational “entitlement” (which is a silly word), can anyone think of another “entitlement” Meyerson’s principle could be understood to justify?

Please invade me

Every now and then it’s fun to go back into history. Not far back, just enough to peak at public arguments concerning invading Iraq. War, as we know from much reading and history channel watching, can involve all of those things Mark Twain’s anti-war prayer speaks of:

>O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Whatever the likelihood of any of that–or the absence of even more likely things from that prayer–it’s a reminder of the dreadfully serious consequences of justified or unjustified belligerence. War is pestilence.

Here are three paragraphs from a prewar article by George Packer:

>One chilly evening in late November, a panel discussion on Iraq was convened at New York University. The participants were liberal intellectuals, and one by one they framed reasonable arguments against a war in Iraq: inspections need time to work; the Bush doctrine has a dangerous agenda; the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East is not encouraging. The audience of 150 New Yorkers seemed persuaded.

>Then the last panelist spoke. He was an Iraqi dissident named Kanan Makiya, and he said, ”I’m afraid I’m going to strike a discordant note.” He pointed out that Iraqis, who will pay the highest price in the event of an invasion, ”overwhelmingly want this war.” He outlined a vision of postwar Iraq as a secular democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens. This vision would be new to the Arab world. ”It can be encouraged, or it can be crushed just like that. But think about what you’re doing if you crush it.” Makiya’s voice rose as he came to an end. ”I rest my moral case on the following: if there’s a sliver of a chance of it happening, a 5 to 10 percent chance, you have a moral obligation, I say, to do it.”

>The effect was electrifying. The room, which just minutes earlier had settled into a sober and comfortable rejection of war, exploded in applause. The other panelists looked startled, and their reasonable arguments suddenly lay deflated on the table before them.

Their mistake was making reasonable arguments.

Argue for it

Every now and then we point out why we tend to pick on conservatives (which we do). There are lots of reasons. The main reason is not that we’re liberal (which we are); it’s not that we think any particular liberal argument is advanced by pointing out the weaknesses in corresponding conservative arguments (they’re not–but then again the liberal arguments may not fail for the sophistical refutations brought forward by conservatives, that’s different); nor is it that we think that finding fault with conservative arguments and arguers in general advances the cause of liberalism in general.

Rather, the primary reason is that conservative pundits have a marked tendency to state their views in the form of arguments. That is to say, they’ll give a series of reasons for embracing some conclusion or another. Since we like arguments, we like reading them and thinking about them, we find this approach appealing (even if we find it often lacking).

On the liberal side (i.e., among major newspaper pundits–the blogosphere is another matter entirely), on the other hand, you don’t often see the kind of energetic arguing typical of George Will or Charles Krauthammer. This is not an indictment of liberal pundits either. There are lots of ways of stating one’s case. Stating in the form of a persuasive argument is just one. We wish they did it more. But that’s a different matter.

Take E.J.Dionne’s op-ed today as an example of the difference between liberal and conservative pundits. Dionne writes about Ted Strickland, Governor of Ohio. In discussing Strickland’s success (in an otherwise red state), Dionne points out that his positions resonate with the people:

>Strickland’s political skill only partly explains Ohio’s political transformation. A state that voted narrowly for President Bush in 2000 and 2004 not only elected Strickland as governor in 2006 but also sent Sherrod Brown, an economic populist with a far-more liberal public profile, to the U.S. Senate.

>The conversion rate among Ohio voters in just two years was staggering. According to exit polling, 30 percent of Ohioans who voted for Bush in 2004 voted for Strickland in 2006; 20 percent of Bush’s 2004 voters supported Brown.

>Why the big change? Scandals involving former governor Robert Taft and former representative Bob Ney made even loyal Republicans squeamish. Strickland won a fifth of self-identified Republicans and a quarter of conservatives, while holding on to more than 90 percent of liberals and Democrats, and roughly 70 percent of moderates and independents. If national Democrats reached such numbers in 2008, they’d win the presidency decisively.

>The new economy has hit Ohio hard. Industrial cities such as Youngstown and Cleveland have suffered under the lash of globalization. Brown’s tough stand against free trade appealed in a place where the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs makes the promise of a flat, highly competitive world fall very flat indeed.

>What might Democratic presidential candidates learn from Ohio? As a matter of style, Strickland suggests they must understand that “people are desperately wanting to believe that political leaders understand them and that they are trying to deal with their day-to-day lives.” Memo to overly cautious candidates: Strickland also thinks that “the display of genuine emotion is important.”

>Substantively, Strickland says the economy matters most, although he has been a strong opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning. “The foreclosure problem is huge,” Strickland says. “The people are desperate for jobs.” He sees health care and education as central — they were the key issues in his recent budget. These questions “ought to give Democrats a leg up,” but only if they can “talk about these things in a way that gets people to believe you will do something about them.”

>There’s the rub for Democrats in 2008. Voters want government to work but aren’t sure that it can. They want government to solve problems but worry that it won’t. This creates a strategic paradox: Democrats need to discredit Bush’s government without discrediting government altogether.

All of this may be a fine explanation of Strickland’s success. But it has the air of a trade journal publication for political strategists. Why should it interest a typical voter to read an article in the newspaper about what the typical voter wants? From the point of view of political analysis, on the other hand, Strickland’s story is interesting. But you couldn’t put anything Dionne says here against the conservative pundit who will argue that the voters are wrong.

Sure they voted that way. But why should they vote that way? Whatever his many vices, and they are many, that’s the kind of question George Will would be asking.

Or Tolstoy is right

David Brooks writes:

>Many will doubt this, but Bush is a smart and compelling presence in person, and only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back.

>Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

>According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.

>If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.

Again, not so much a false dichotomy as false dichotomizing: considering only two very different possibilities as exhaustive without the further claim that one is evidently false or ridiculous.


Can’t go wrong with little theological disputation on a Saturday morning: Michael Gerson offers up the old saw that morality without Theism is vacuous or unjustifiable. Christopher Hitchens replies by arguing that theism is not a necessary condition of morality.

First Gerson.

>So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

>Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

>Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests — a fear of bad consequences — will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

1. Human beings have good and bad instincts.
2. Morality requires choosing the good instincts over the bad instincts.
3. Moral choice requires an objective standard for judging desires.
4. Atheists have no objective standard for judging desires.
5. Therefore, Atheists cannot be moral.

That’s one construal of the argument. Gerson seems, however, to vacillate between this and something like

\6. Therefore, Atheists have no reason to be moral.

and something like

\7. Therefore, Atheists have no objective moral standards.

Probably part of the problem lies with the slippery notion of what it means to be “moral.” But, setting that aside, 4 is the crucial claim in any version of the argument. And here, I think, Gerson gets a little simplistic.

>In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them?

I’m not sure whether Atheists are committed to a “purely material universe.” Seems as though they could hold to the existence of the mental as well. And whether or not they hold that, there are plenty of plausible accounts of morality that ground moral judgment in the nature of reason. If the evolutionary account of ethics explains the origin of reason in evolution need it thereby undermine its authority? If an evolutionary account of mathematical reasoning were developed, would it remove the authority of mathematical proof?

This is, of course, a superficial response, but this argument and the earlier one from Stanley Fish seem to rest on the either deliberate or ignorant disregard of recent moral philosophy. Both blithely dismiss the possibility of a non-theistic justification of morality with several straw man arguments (“purely material universes”) ignoring great bookshelves full of candidate justifications for morality.

It may turn out that there isn’t a coherent non-theistic justification of morality. But to claim that there isn’t, at this point in time, requires some serious response to numerous alternative positions. Until that happens, there seems little reason to me to accept Gerson’s argument. Nonetheless, it would be desirable if the proponents of this argument in the popular press would spend a little more time justifying the controversial premise.

Second, Hitchens. When we strip his characteristic verve from his column we get essentially.

1. Some theists are not moral.
2. Some moral people are not theists.
3. Therefore, it is not the case that theism is a necessary condition of being moral.

As Hitchens points out, Gerson waffles a bit on his conclusion. Sometimes he suggests that theism is necessary for morality, sometimes that it encourages it, sometimes he even seems to grant Hitchen’s argument, but then hold that theism makes sense of the morality that both theists and non-theists can possess.

“Caution-to-the-wind Principles”

Adding to earlier diagnosis of the ad infantem fallacy: The argument the author over at the WaPo is making seems to me to be that the worry
over climate change is disproportionate to the danger or the likelihood
of the threatened harm. It is an increasingly common reaction to
climate change warnings as the straight-up deniers seem to be
retreating to their Hummers. It rests on a reasonable premise:

  1. Concern should be proportional to risk, where risk is proportional to magnitude of harm and likelihood of occurence.

Then you attack Al Gore for hyping the risk, while presenting a
posture of cool headed calm in opposition to Gore’s climate hysteria
(and benefiting the children as well!). It generally depends on making one of two claims:

  1. the harm will be less severe than Gore predicts.
  2. the harm is less likely than Gore claims .

Arguing these claims would require scientific argument/evidence.
This editorial flails around in the proximity of these claims but
settles on the related claim:

3. we don’t know what the likelihood or severity of the harm is.

The author supports this claim with

  1. an argument about the inability of climatologists to predict the
    weather in August. Therefore it is unlikely that they can predict the
    weather in 2100.
  2. an argument about the “controversies” surrounding whether storms
    are exacerbated by climate change or not. (Committing what we might
    call the fallacy of appeal to a single uncontextualized scientific
    study. Well, to be fair she doesn’t really commit this “fallacy” since
    all she wants to do is suggest that we don’t know.). On this see the
    debate over here or the related discussion here. We can also add that this is not exactly the most significant part of the harms imagined in the IPCC’s 4th report. (In fact it’s barely mentioned). Finally, as pointing out in the first link, contrast her use of this study with the WaPo’s own reportage.

These very weak arguments for 3, then allow the author to suggest
that we shouldn’t be too alarmist about climate change and certainly
not scare the children! Al Gore should be ashamed! Until you are
certain, don’t scare the children.

This sort of editorial probably takes about 5 minutes to write.
Really all that’s going on is

  1.   find some disagreement in the
    scientific literature
  2.   therefore we shouldn’t worry too much.

Somewhere in there is something akin to the appeal to ignorance. It
isn’t quite an appeal to igorance because the conclusion isn’t simply
the negative conclusion:

a) climate change isn’t a risk

but rather, something like:

b) we don’t know whether it is a risk, so we should treat it as though it isn’t a (big) risk.

There’s much more to be said about this latter step, as clearly sometimes it is a perfectly good inference. In environmental ethics we discuss something called the "precautionary principle." Roughly this is a principle that shifts the "burden of proof" to those who advocate a policy that is potentially very dangerous. For example, the advocates of a policy might have to demonstrate that the risk is minimal, or manageable, etc.

The sort of argument that we are analyzing here seem to rest on a "caution to the wind principle" which seems to suggest that in the absence of conclusive demonstration of certain and determinate harms, we shouldn’t worry too much, and we definitely shouldn’t upset the children.

Evil problems

The other day Richard Cohen–liberal columnist for the post–declared Monica Goodling, preemptive 5th taker to be innocent, like Scooter Libby (who was found guilty on four counts), of any crime. Did he have special knowledge of her case? Nope. He simply declared, “Monica, you’ve done nothing wrong.” In a similar vein of prejudging events, Cohen moves in to analyze the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. He writes:

>In my day, Fort Dix, N.J., billed itself as the home of the Ultimate Weapon. That weapon, depicted by a heroic statue at the front gate, was the lowly infantryman armed only with his rifle and appearing to shout something like “Follow me!” This was the Army’s way of countering the glamour of the other services, particularly the Air Force. It took boots on the ground — not planes overhead — to really win a war. It took, in short, the ultimate weapon. No one could kill better.

Maybe. Cohen continues:

>Now from Blacksburg, Va., comes additional evidence that there is nothing as dangerous as a single man and nothing as unpredictable as the mind of man. The man who is said to be responsible for all those killings, 32 in all, will be examined down to microscopic detail. But no matter what anyone says, Cho Seung Hui was just mad. Other terms will be applied to him and, of course, he’s already being called a loner, but the simple fact is that he was mad — maybe not for long, but when it mattered, long enough.

Scoring political points about gun control or the lack thereof before they have counted the dead is bad enough. Turning a real event into a broad moral lesson–one that it doesn’t even teach–is worse. As anyone who has read the accounts of the life of the shooter knows, his actions had been predicted (and feared) by many students and faculty. That’s one of the things that’s so appalling. But let’s not mind the facts–Cohen says–as a matter of fact, let’s proclaim that the facts won’t matter–the facts that is that will come out when we study what happened–for Cohen knows the answer: he was just mad.

Accounts have it that the killer left a long and rambling note explaining his actions. No matter. Let’s not wait to read it, Cohen says, because we already know the answer. Well, if that’s the case, then there is nothing more predictable than the human mind: Cohen knows without inquiry what it’s up to.